Joy Sisisky will serve as the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund's interim CEO starting Dec. 31, 2021.
Joy Sisisky will serve as the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund's interim CEO starting Dec. 31, 2021.

S.F. Federation announces philanthropy ace Joy Sisisky as interim CEO

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The San Francisco–based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund has announced that Joy Sisisky will act as interim CEO while the organization looks for a replacement for current CEO Danny Grossman, who will step down Dec. 31.

“Doing our work now to set up the organization for success and a new permanent CEO is really important, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to help do that,” Sisisky told J.

The 45-year-old Sisisky has been the Federation’s chief philanthropy officer, overseeing the organization’s large charitable giving arm, since 2016. Her appointment as interim CEO came in a unanimous vote by the 29-member board.

Asked why she believes the board looked to her to steer the organization through the transition, she pointed to her history at the organization.

“I’ve been very deeply involved at a strategic level in many of the decisions and conversations at the Federation for the time that I’ve been here,” she said. “And I think that I can offer a steady hand in the everyday work.”

In 2020, she managed the Federation’s boom in grant-making to support organizations during the pandemic, during which Federation-managed donor-advised funds and supporting foundations issued grants of $180.8 million, up more than $5 million from the year before.

“Through all of our channels of giving — the endowment, donor-advised funds — we gave away nearly $200 million in grants,” Sisisky told J. when she was profiled by J. in October.

Sisisky said these needs will continue to be a priority for Federation.

“Covid response continues to be of immediate concern in the community, and we continue our grant-making,” she said. “In the springtime we conducted a needs assessment to help identify some of the challenges that our community is facing, particularly around mental health and financial sustainability of our organizations.”

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Sisisky is the granddaughter of Norman Sisisky, the first Jewish Virginian to serve in Congress. She has a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic studies and politics from Brandeis University, and later earned two master’s degrees, including one in Jewish communal service from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

RELATED: In a time of global suffering, Federation sees growth in Jewish giving

She got her professional start at AIPAC and later worked for the Joint Distribution Committee, which aids far-flung Jewish communities around the world. As a fellow with the JDC’s Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship in International Jewish Communal Service, she lived and worked in Ukraine and Ethiopia, experiences she calls “transformational and life-changing.”

Sisisky also worked for the Jewish Federations of North America (then known as United Jewish Communities), running the Lion of Judah Endowment, through which philanthropists establish $100,000-plus charities aiding the Jewish community. Before joining the S.F.-based Federation, she served for eight years as executive director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.

She said that her focus on development and donor relationships will continue as she takes up the mantle of interim CEO.

“I will continue to maintain and grow the relationships that I have,” she said. “I serve as our chief fundraiser in the role I have as chief philanthropy officer, and that’s part of the job of CEO, interim or permanent, so I’m eager to expand some of those relationships.”

Sisisky said Federation is approaching its busiest time of year, as the end of the calendar year is the time a lot of donor-advised funds tend to make grants — up to two-thirds of the grant-making for the year, she said.

With the announcement of her appointment coming on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 30, when nonprofits nationwide make a push for donations, the decision to put a philanthropy expert in the CEO office seems apt.

“It’s a nice coincidence that we are at Giving Tuesday today, and we’re also in the middle of Hanukkah,” said managing director for marketing and communications Kerry Philp. “I’m grateful that Joy is giving her gift of leadership to our organization at a time of transition like this.”

The Federation board has set up a search committee and hired the firm of Isaacson, Miller to lead the search for the Federation’s next CEO. The firm, based in Boston with an office in San Francisco, is known for high-level university and large nonprofit executive hirings, and, according to its website, has “increasingly diverse leadership in our client organizations with over 58 percent of our placements being women and/or people of color.” According to Philp, the board is hoping to have a new CEO announced by July 1.

In the meantime, Sisisky said she will be fully committed to leading the organization.

“I bring my full self to this work, I always do,” she said. “Mentally, physically, in all ways. Spiritually. And I am grounded in my Judaism and I will continue to use that as a guide in the work.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.